Jake and the Pearl Street Jumpers at The Blue Biscuit

After leaving Alligator, we ended up heading down to Drew, and taking Highway 49W through Ruleville, Doddsville and Sunflower into Indianola, to one of my very favorite restaurants in the world, The Blue Biscuit. The Biscuit is owned by renowned chef Trish Berry, who had been the executive chef at Bill Luckett and Morgan Freeman’s ill-fated Madidi Restaurant in Clarksdale. While Madidi was expensive fine-dining, the Blue Biscuit is something altogether different, sort of a cross between a diner and a juke joint. While the restaurant menu is diverse and varied, in my opinion, the pulled-pork barbecue is the star of the show. A few years ago, it was possible to order something called “Biscuits and Barbecue”, which was exactly that, four freshly-baked buttermilk biscuits that were halved, with pulled pork placed between the halves. This was literally one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten. Unfortunately, we noticed on this visit that the menu has changed, and that biscuits and barbecue is no longer available, but the pulled pork is still on the menu, and just as good as I remember it from previous visits.
An added treat on this visit was live music from a Cleveland, Mississippi band called Jake and the Pearl Street Jumpers, whose repertoire consists of blues, soul and funk. Somehow, I had not encountered them before, but they are an accomplished and versatile band, and they kept the crowd mesmerized all evening. This was my first time seeing a live music gig at the Blue Biscuit, and I found the location and atmosphere perfectly suited to the music, and everything quite enjoyable.

Celebrating the Life of B. B. King in Indianola

002 B. B. King Homecoming003 B. B. King Homecoming004 B. B King Homecoming005 Blues All-Stars006 Blues All-Stars007 Blues All-StarsJPG008 Blues All-Stars010 B. B. King Homecoming011 B. B. King Homecoming012 B. B. King Homecoming013 B. B. King Homecoming014 B. B. King Homecoming015 Blues All-Stars016 Blues All-Stars017 Blues All-Stars018 Cody Dickinson & Sherena Boyce019 B. B. King Homecoming020 Food Trucks021 Food Trucks022 Eden Brent023 Eden Brent024 Eden Brent025 Eden Brent026 B. B. King Homecoming029 Eden Brent030 Eden Brent031 B. B. King Homecoming032 B. B. King Homecoming033 Eden Brent034 B. B. King Homecoming035 Eden Brent036 Eden Brent037 B. B. King Homecoming038 Marquise Knox039 Marquise Knox041 Marquise Knox042 Marquise Knox043 Marquise Knox044 Marquise Knox045 Marquise Knox046 Marquise Knox047 Marquise Knox048 Marquise Knox049 Marquise Knox050 Marquise Knox051 Marquise Knox052 Marquise Knox054 Marquise Knox055 Marquise Knox056 Marquise Knox057 Marquise Knox058 Marquise Knox059 Marquise Knox061 Marquise Knox062 Marquise Knox065 Lil Ray066 Lil Ray067 Lil Ray068 Lil Ray069 Lil Ray070 Lil Ray071 Sherena Boyce & Marquise Knox072 Lil Ray073 Lil Ray074 B. B. King Homecoming078 The Blue Biscuit079 The Blue Biscuit082 Sherena Boyce085 North Mississippi All-Stars086 Lightning Malcolm087 North Mississippi All-Stars088 North Mississippi All-Stars089 Lightning Malcolm090 North Mississippi All-Stars091 North Mississippi All-Stars093 North Mississippi All-Stars094 North Mississippi All-Stars095 North Mississippi All-Stars096 North Mississippi All-Stars097 North Mississippi All-Stars098 North Mississippi All-Stars099 North Mississippi All-Stars100 North Mississippi All-Stars102 B. B. King Homecoming103 Cody Dickinson104 Cody Dickinson105 Cody Dickinson106 Cody Dickinson107 North Mississippi All-Stars108 North Mississippi All-Stars109 North Mississippi All-Stars110 North Mississippi All-Stars
Each year in B. B. King’s hometown of Indianola, Mississippi, deep in the historic Delta region, the great bluesman returned in late May for an event called the Homecoming, where he performed for the people of his original hometown, and on the occasion of the 2014 Homecoming, he stated that that year’s event would be his last. The old man’s health was fading, and the travel was hard on him. But none of us could have imagined that he would not live to see the next one. This year’s Homecoming, coming a week or so after B. B. King’s death, was a sad occasion, and yet an opportunity for many great blues musicians to come together and honor King’s life and legacy on the grounds of the museum that bears his name. Just as the occasion was both joyful and sorrowful, the day was alternated by periods of heat and sunshine and downpours of rain, but in between the showers came a diverse array of performers, including Greenville blues diva Eden Brent, youthful St. Louis blues star Marquise Knox, Lil Ray, son of the Louisiana blues star Raful Neal, and the North Mississippi All-Stars, with Cody and Luther Dickinson, featuring Sharde Thomas on the keyboards and fife, and Lightning Malcolm on the guitar. The crowd ebbed and flowed due to the weather, but at its strongest seemed to be about 200 or so, equipped with lawn chairs, blankets and picnic baskets, and even sparklers. The North Mississippi All-Stars had barely finished their outdoor set, when the rains came a final time, more decisively, and some of the crowd headed around to the Club Ebony for the indoor evening performance. There really couldn’t have been a better way to honor B. B. King.

Keep up with Eden Brent:

Keep up with Marquise Knox:

Keep up with the North Mississippi All-Stars:


Indianola's Blues Legacy on Church Street

050 Gin Mill Grill, Indianola MS051 Gin Mill Grill, Indianola MS052 Gin Mill Grill, Indianola MS053 Gin Mill Grill, Indianola MS054 Gin Mill Grill, Indianola MS055 Blues Corner Cafe, Indianola MS056 Blues Corner Cafe057 Blues Corner Cafe058 Blues Corner Cafe059 Blues Corner Cafe060 Blues Corner Cafe061 Blues Corner Cafe063 Blues Corner Cafe064 Church Street, Indianola MS065 Church Street, Indianola MS066 Blues Corner Cafe067 Church Street Heritage Festival068 Travis at Blues Corner Cafe070 White Rose Cafe071 White Rose Cafe073 White Rose Cafe074 Thug For Life075 Do Not Stand In Front of the Club076 Church Street
Our whole goal for the afternoon had been to make it to Indianola for lunch, but we were in for a disappointment, because when we got there, we found that the Blue Biscuit, where we had intended to eat, was not open for lunch on Wednesdays. So we went across the street to the Gin Mill Grill instead, and then over to Church Street, which was the traditional street for juke joints in Indianola. We found that the walls of the Blues Corner Cafe (or Cozy Corner Cafe) were painted with interesting murals full of wit, wisdom and portraits of Delta life and blues legends. The murals were also found on the adjacent White Rose Cafe, which is now the Motor Mouse Motorcycle Club, and even included a 2Pac portrait with the words “Thug Life” and “Only God Can Judge Me.” A banner in a nearby vacant lot promoted the Church Street Festival, which is being held on Saturday June 28th, as a way of celebrating the historic Black neighborhood’s legacy. The event is being organized by Charles McLaurin, a former Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and COFO leader, and perhaps not coincidentally will take place during the 50th Anniversary of the Mississippi Summer Project.

Delta Easter and Dinner at the Blue Biscuit in Indianola @BlueBiscuit1

Easter Sunday afternoon after church proved to be an absolutely beautiful day, so I headed first down to the Blue Note on Beale Street in Memphis where my homeboy Tune had started working to try the food there, and had a bacon cheeseburger, which I can truly say is the best burger on Beale Street. Then, with nothing else to do for the day, I decided to head down into the Mississippi Delta with my camera, taking pictures and finally ending up at The Blue Biscuit, Trish Berry’s excellent restaurant in Indianola. Two things stood out about my trip overall that afternoon, one of them the extent to which many of the Delta towns’ business district are basically ghost towns, all too many of them collapsed into absolute ruins, even though the towns themselves are still inhabited. The other thing that I noticed was the groups of young people walking in many of these places, still dressed in their finest clothes. In a few of the towns, family reunions and gatherings were going on either in private yards or parks. At Drew, for the first time, I saw walls and makeshift shrines commemorating young people who had been murdered, yet Ruleville looked cleaner and more prosperous, and families had gathered in its park to enjoy the afternoon. Nearby, on the stretch of Front Street traditionally nicknamed “Greasy Street”, two clubs were jumping, the venerable Club Black Castle which I remember from WCLE radio broadcasts back in the day, and the more grown folks-oriented Main Event next door. But at the next town of Sunflower, something else was going on altogether. The town seemed abuzz with young people the moment I entered it. They seemed to be in yards, in parks and on every corner, in what seemed to be a festive mood, so I gave little thought to them as I headed downtown to start photographing old and historic buildings. Sunflower, which was an historic battleground in the Civil Rights Movement (the legendary Fannie Lou Hamer was from nearby Ruleville), is home to a Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee offshoot called the Sunflower County Freedom Project, which has taken over the row of historic buildings along the railroad downtown. However, I noticed almost immediately that Gangster Disciples graffiti had been spray-painted on the back of a stop sign, and not long thereafter, I heard police sirens heading into the downtown area. Apparently a brawl had broken out between two young women, in which bystanders had soon joined in. I parked my car outside a juke joint called Club Wide Open, as people gathered on the corner to see what was going on. “Oh, boy! Look at them run”, said a man from the club as a group of young men came running from the neighborhoods to the north toward the corner of Quiver and Martin Luther King where the fight had broken out. As I walked in that direction, I noticed pieces of hair weave strewn along the street, presumably from the fight, but as I got to the corner, I realized that the town police had sprayed pepper spray, and I caught some of it, so I prudently made my way back to my car. The remaining crowd seemed reluctant to disperse. “I want to know who jumped my muthafuckin cousin!” one young man kept yelling repeatedly, and I realized that the problems stirred up by the fight were likely to persist all night, so I got back to my car and headed on to Indianola.
It was nearly sundown when I reach Indianola, but there was just time for me to get some beautiful shots of the sun going down over Indian Bayou. The B. B. King Museum was closed, as was Club Ebony and 308 Blues Club (whose owner had been found dead earlier in the month), but the Blue Biscuit was open, and there was a decent crowd inside although there was no live music on Easter Sunday. I ordered my favorite meal there, biscuits and barbecue, which is exactly what it says it is, pulled pork placed between the halves of four buttermilk biscuits. It is truly incredible, and something that has to be tried to be believed. Afterwards, I made a drive around Indianola, but found very little going on, and called my DJ partner Bigg V to see if he knew where things were jumping off, but I couldn’t reach him either, so I started the drive back to Memphis. I considered stopping off at the Black Castle in Ruleville, but having to work in the morning, I thought better of it, and drove on into Memphis.

Blues, Barbecue and Biscuits at Indianola’s Blue Biscuit

After Mickey Rogers’ performance was over at the B.B. King Museum, I wanted something to eat, and the Blue Biscuit was literally a stone’s-throw away, and it looked quite intriguing. Reviewers on Yelp had recommended the catfish, and I love catfish if it’s done well, but once I was inside looking at a menu, I spied something totally unexpected- under the appetizers was a listing for “Biscuits and BBQ.” My waitress explained that it was exactly what it said it was- four freshly-baked biscuits with pulled pork piled on- rather unusual, but something that I had to try. She warned that it would take 20 minutes for the biscuits to bake, and it did, but the place has such a friendly vibe and cool appearance that I didn’t mind waiting. I was visited by the owner, who wanted to give me a tour of the place (which is truly large, with several rooms, a stage, a bar and two pianos, and decorated with all kinds of blues memorabilia and posters), and I learned that the executive chef is Trish Berry, formerly of Morgan Freeman and Bill Luckett’s Madidi in Clarksdale. Soon my biscuits and barbecue arrived- the biscuits were hot and crunchy on the outside, melting on your mouth on the inside. Each had been halved, and in between was more delicious pulled pork than they could hold, delicately tender, with plenty of smoked flavor, and a sweet barbecue sauce on the table to add to them as desired. Despite its listing as an appetizer, together with an order of french fries, four barbecue biscuits was plenty to eat, and even with a drink and tip, came to only about $11. Although there was no live music on the night I was there, The Blue Biscuit does often feature live music, and has a Blue Biscuit Festival on June 1st. They also have two bungalows for vacationers or business travelers, and with a location in walking distance of the museum and blues clubs, it’s definitely where you want to be.

Living Blues History at Indianola’s Club Ebony

Indianola’s Club Ebony plays a most important role in the history of the Delta blues. Built in 1948, the Ebony was once a show palace, incredibly large and decked out with high, decorative ceilings and glass panels around the stage and on walls. The club was undoubtedly a source of pride for Indianola’s Black community back in the rough days of segregation just after World War II. The Ebony also figured in B.B. King’s career. Not only did King play there in his early days, but he fell in love with and married a daughter of the owner. When the final owner, Mary Shepherd, decided to retire, there was fear that the Ebony would close. Instead, it was purchased by B. B. King, who operated it for a couple of years before giving to the museum. The museum now operates the Club Ebony, which is in the process of being restored to its 1948 grandeur. Live music still happens at the Ebony, but the down side to the museum administration is early closing hours- the Ebony now shuts down at 10 PM, even on weekends.

Spencer’s Grocery, Indianola

Also on Hanna Avenue as one walks toward Club Ebony is Spencer’s Grocery, which one of the men out front said had been there for “a long time.” It looks to be old, if not historic, and it is definitely a neighborhood gathering spot. To my surprise, the people out front asked me to take their picture, so I obliged.

Strong Pool Hall & Eatery, Indianola

The next building south from 308 Blues Club on Depot/Hanna, on the opposite side of the railroad tracks is this pool hall and restaurant that clearly has been around for a long time and which exudes a blues look and ambiance. The odd painting on the edge of the building near the restaurant door suggests that the northern side of building may have housed a record shop at one time. Several vinyl records are painted, along with the words “Albums” “Cassettes” and “45s”.

The B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center, Indianola

The B.B. King Museum in the famous bluesman’s hometown of Indianola, Mississippi states that its purpose is to promote the values of B. B. King, but it has also promoted an increase in tourism to what was a sleepy Delta town. The live music outdoors that motivated me to drive down from Memphis was sponsored by the museum, and the museum has now assumed control of the historic Club Ebony, located just to the southwest of the museum campus.

308 Blues Club and Cafe (@308blues) in Indianola

Not far from the BB King Museum in Indianola is a street called Depot Avenue on one side of the tracks and Hanna Avenue on the other, and on that street is 308 Blues Club and Cafe, a relatively-new venue with a classic old blues ambiance. The club is open Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, although live music is usually only on Saturdays nowadays, and while blues is the usual music, there are sometimes rock bands or other styles. When in Indianola, 308 is definitely worth a visit.